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Trainees Take on the Apocalypse Chapter One: A Chaotic Job Interview

by KateHardy


Chapter One

A Chaotic Job Interview

(Safiana)

Safiana Vialena needed a minute. This day was going a mile a minute, and not in the fun way when supersonic transport was involved.

Who could possibly have thought that a job interview at one of the better-known secret agencies in the world could actually be anything but normal? Well Safi to name one. Her thoughts were so, so far from the truth. In her defense, they had sort of told her she’d gotten the job before she’d been told there was an interview. Okay, that wasn’t really the truth but that was the explanation that she was planning on going with once she miserably failed at whatever the agency was going to throw at her.

On that wonderfully optimistic note, Safi made her way towards the room she’d been told to head inside of. At least that had been easy to find. The door was a little hard to miss. Amidst the shiny white tiles that adorned most of the walls, it stuck out like a sore thumb. A sturdy piece of oak, with the words “New Recruits” burned right onto the surface.

She’d seen doors with plaques, even doors with names engraved onto them, but this was a new level of permanence when it came to labels. She couldn’t help but think it was an ironic choice designed to hint at how not permanent of a fixture the people who walked in there tended to be.

She reached for the handle. The metal was cool to the touch. Before she could appreciate it or turn the handle, the feeling of a thousand little needles being driven into her skin overloaded her senses. Safi jumped back, releasing the handle, just about managing to stop herself from screaming. What in the world? An electrocuting handle? Why? When? How?

Her eyes widened. Was this the first test? Was she failing already? Was this somehow not the door she was supposed to go through? She was broken out of her thoughts by a voice from behind her.

“Safiana Vialena, as I live and breathe.”

She whirled around immediately to come face to face, well that was a generous statement, the woman behind her was a solid foot taller so really it was face to neck. Safi looked up to find a face that seemed vaguely familiar.

“Serafina?” asked Safi, curiosity now lacing her voice. Well, this just got interesting. She’d been told of the chances of running into people in her batch of course. While graduating agents from the same group of classes tended to be split up among different branches of the agency, this year had contained enough of them that a couple of branches would be getting multiple recruits.

“The one and the only,” replied the woman, with a small smile. “So… guess we’re both in this branch huh?”

Safi nodded. “That seems to be what’s happening here, yes.”

“So do we just go in? That dude at the reception was a little vague,” said Serafina

.“He was. I probably should’ve realized that,” said Safi, nodding. Well, that made a lot of sense now. Figuring out how to get into the room was a test. That meant Safi was in fact failing before this had even really started.

“So, I take it the door didn’t exactly open?”

“That would be an accurate assumption,” said Safi, with a little sigh, “Well not from the handle at least, I would not recommend that unless your power happens to have something to do with electricity or you enjoy being struck by lightning.”

“So, I’m going to be avoiding that handle,” said Serafina, with a nod. “Thanks for the heads up.”

“Of course.”

“So, any brilliant ideas for getting into the room?” asked Serafina.

“Truth be told, I didn’t think too far beyond the door and the handle.” Safi flushed. Wow she was doing badly. How could she be this bad at going inside a room? She was better than this. There had to be some way to get inside, and it was probably going to be something very simple and very stupid that she’d just missed because she’d never bothered to really look.

“Window?” suggested Serafina, breaking her out of her mini spiral.

Safi blinked a couple of times as she returned back to the world around. She gave the place a cursory glance. There wasn’t a window she could see. It was simply the white tiles everywhere, the only other standout being the smell of old parchment and vanilla that seemed to be everywhere in the agency and the quiet drone of what Safi assumed must be some sort of air conditioning unit. Or a automated defense system. They tended to sound quite similar.

Safi just shrugged.

“Yeah, stupid question, the only option is some alternate way to get that door open, well either that or one of these tiles has gotta be some kind of secret entrance or something, although I get the feeling tapping all of these tiles to see if one of them opens up a secret entrance will not look good on us.:

“The tiles are like the sanest option we have at the moment,” said Safi. She wasn’t wrong. “I mean what else is here. I’m very tempted to just commit, but we should probably exhaust all the avenues on the door first.”

Serafina nodded. She sized up the door as Safi stepped aside to give her a better view.

She pointed at the fire etched letters. “That’s odd. Do you think that could be some sort of clue?”

“Well, it’s a wooden door. I’m sure with the right equipment we’d have absolutely no trouble busting out way through with some gool ol' fashioned arson, but I don’t know. That seems a little extreme, even for this lot.”

“Remember the first rule of being a secret agent?”

“If the answer to something is needlessly complicated or dramatic, there’s a good chance you’re on the right track.” Safi rattled it off before she even realized what she was doing. That statement along with several others were engraved far too deep into her memory. Academy had been...long.

“So… do you have some perfume on you, I have a lighter.”

“Wait you’re not suggesting we actually...?”

Serafina shrugged. “What have we got to lose? Besides no one said we couldn't."

Safi dipped into her handbag and pulled out her emergency perfume bottle. “Nothing like a bit of arson to make a good first impression on your employer.”

Serafina nodded. “Precisely.” She produced a lighter, flicking it open with a click.

Safi popped the cap off the bottle, bending down a little and spreading her legs to get into a more stable position. There was no telling what could happen. Given the electric handle, there was no guarantee that the door wasn’t just going to explode right in their faces.

Serafina nodded, hitting the button. It took a few tries and a couple of shakes but on the sixth attempt a tiny flame flickered to life. Safi took a deep breath. Here we go. Arson time.

She pressed down on the perfume and the thin stream of perfume sprayed perfectly into the path of the flame, turning the harmless sweet-smelling liquid into a large fiery ball of death that blasted right into the center of the door under the sign. The heat was immense, spreading out, almost painful on Safi's exposed arms, her sleeveless dress not doing half the job Sefarina's leather jacket probably was.

There was the sound of something splintering and a large crack appeared in the center of the door. Safi’s stared at it. That wasn’t what wood normally did when exposed to fire. Not if she remembered that class correctly anyway.

She let up on the perfume, their temporary flamethrower cutting off instantly to reveal…just a crack. There was no sign whatsoever to suggest that the door had just been exposed to any form of fire, not even the weird coagulating that tended to happen on fireproof paint. It could be some sort of ward but even those usually gave off some sort of other indication.

“Well, that was…” began Serafina.

“Strange.”

“Yeah.”

“I guess….” Safi was cut off by the sound of splintering wood. The two of them swiveled towards the door. The crack was widening somehow, even without any visible force and as they watched, it bent inwards and the door proceeded to snap in half like a dry cracker falling in two pieces into the room.

Wide green eyes met Safi’s own.

“Well...” they chorused, both trying to talk at the same time. Safi recovered first, quickly moving bow and gesture towards the open door. “After you milady.”

Serafina did a little double take, before she seemed to realize where she was, tossing the lighter back into her pocked as she nodded in thanks and stepped over the broken wreckage of the door.

Safi stepped in after her. Her hands instinctively moved up in surrender, ready to apologize before she realized that this was supposed to be her solution to this test and apologizing for it was definitely going to be sending the wrong message.

She proceeded to put her hands on her hips. That’s when she realized that she was still holding the perfume. This was a mess. She was a mess.

“That was…” came a voice from within the room, the drama dripping off it in waves. Safi grimaced, closing her eyes to hear the verdict. “…very cool.”

Safi opened her eyes out of pure shock. What? Had she actually done it?

“Vankous we’re trying to be professional here,” said a second voice. “You’re not helping that cause in the slightest.”

“Excuse me, I am…”

A third person cleared their throat.

Safi stood there in shock still trying to make sense of all of it. She focused on the room. Focusing on the three people sitting on the other end of the room clearly wasn’t going to help her calm down.

Taking a deep breath, she looked around. It was a surprisingly cozy environment compared to the rest of the agency. Gone were the white tiles and indifferent blue lights. It looked almost homey with the cheery wallpaper depicting various landscapes ranging from fields of flowers to a golden dual sunset. It was much more chaotic too, wrapped around the walls with no discernable pattern. It was almost like a scrapbook done on a wall.

The floor was carpeted, the fluffy carpet soft and squishy even through Safi’s combat boots. Unlike most of the other rooms within the agency it wasn’t bare.

No, this room felt almost cluttered by the number of comfortable couches and various tables covered in food and drink scattered about. Even though it had to be one of the larger rooms that Safi had walked into. It was cozy. That was the right word.

She took a deep breath, using the peaceful images in the walls to ground herself so she could finally look up towards the judges. That’s when there was a loud thud from behind her and she whirled around, barely managing to suppress the urge to scream.

She breathed a sigh of relief. It was not someone charging in with a baseball bat to clobber them on the back for breaking the door. It was the door which was stitching itself back together and rising up to take its former place.

She shrugged and turned back to the judges. The door doing that was hardly the most magical thing about that door or this place for that matter. She took another second, this time focusing on her own combat boots to ground herself once again before finally looking up at the judges.

“Welcome, Ms. Vialena and Ms. Gianova,” began the one in the center. “My name is Hardy. Kaitlyn Hardy. But everyone calls me Kate. If I hear a single one of you even try to call me Captain Hardy, we’ll have strong words about it.” She chuckled, even as the judge on her right rolled his eyes.

Safi found herself mid panic for the third time in probably less than three minutes. The summer dress in a very particular shade of blue. The unmistakable logo on the top right of said dress. The glasses tinted a very specific shade. The vibrant blue hair hanging in loose curls. This was THE Kate Hardy. The legend. And… And. Safi forgot how to breathe for a second. She’d just asked Safi to call her Kate. The Celestial of Darkness, the Goddess of all Love and Literal Firstborn of Reality wanted to be on first name basis. No scratch that, nickname basis.

“Oh for goodness sake. Does everyone have a crush on you?” It was the judge that had spoken up first. As Safi looked towards him, she could easily recognize the lab coat, also emblazoned with a specific symbol, a calculator sticking out of his pocket and purple hair slicked into a style Safi knew well. Not to mention how one of the other judges had clearly called him Vankous. She recognized him too. This was THE Vankous. The one who had famously moved the entire Milky way three lightyears to the left, just to PRANK the invading Andromedians. This day was getting more stressful by the minute.

She glanced closer at the other judge. If those two were... She gulped. Despite the fairly normal look of the spotless three piece suit and tie, the symbol on the top right pocket gave away who it actually was, not to mention the R shaped cufflinks. That was Raymond Sanders. It was the only explanation, especially next to those two. Naturally. Where else for reality's most powerful hacker to reside than with a celestial and THE wizard.

“None of you are helping either of the two young ladies here,” spoked up Raymond. “Apologies for all of this, really. I let this go on too long.” He stood up from his seat.

“I’m Raymond Sanders. You can call me Mr. Sanders, or really Ray is fine. We’ll all be colleagues soon enough, either on or off the field. Neither one of you is getting fired. Well unless…” He paused. “We’ll get to that explanation later.”

Safi gulped. That was not comforting to hear right after breaking down a door within the agency walls, especially with her still holding onto the perfume. Why was she still holding the perfume? Serafina had put the lighter away. Well, it was too late now to put it away without making things look even more awkward than they currently were.

“So… as I was saying. Apologies on behalf of Kate here and our third panel member for this meeting." He pointed at Vankous. "Vankous Frostification. He insisted he be called Lord Kous Kous, but feel free to ignore him and just go with Vankous. Everyone calls him that.”

Safi watched in wide eyed horror as Serafina moved to stifle a laugh at Vankous’ name. Sure, it was absolutely worth laughing at, but how could you possibly be so open about it as to visibly stifle a laugh. Serafina, as far as Safi could remember, was much better than that at controlling her emotions.

There was an indignant squeak by Vankous, Safi immediately taking a step back, wondering what bunny based fury was about to be unleashed. Nothing happened. She glanced toward Sefarina, even she was unbothered. She tried to focus again.

Ray, meanwhile, continued with his talk. “So, as I was saying there earlier. That’s what these three are called. With that, I’d like to formally welcome you to the first step in your path to become proper field agents. Congratulations. You have the passed the first test, which is getting into the room.”

Safi couldn’t help the incredibly goofy grin that immediately replaced every sign of worry on her face. They had done it. The idea was correct. They did it. They made it. Okay, it was just the very first step, but they hadn’t messed up and that was always a big deal.

“You did quite admirably in fact,” continued Ray, seemingly ignoring Safi’s change in mood and Serafina’s indifference. “There are three ways into the room. They are in fact used to begin a sort of preliminary sorting process to see what type of person you are. Kate, if you’d maybe explain it to them.”

Kate stood up to join Ray. “Thank you for stealing my speech and ruining the fun.” The warm smile on her face doing nothing to actually suggest she felt that way.

“On that note, I’ll explain. You really don’t need to know these, but it helps,” said Kate, “besides we have some time that needs killing.”

Vankous rolled his eyes from next to her.

Kate didn’t seem to want to dignify that with a reaction. “So, first of all there’s the people who stick with the obvious route, that is the ones who use the handle. Its very usable, as long as you can absorb the pain. Then there is actually a very intricate pattern of tiles that, if you tap perfectly, can unlock and open a side window. Last but not the least, you can do anything to destroy the door. If the spell reads that it would be effective in destroying the door, it does… well you saw what it does.

“We have the brute force, sacrifice my hand for this job people, the ones who spot details that are literally invisible, and the ones who pick the simplest solution,” Vankous explained. “All perfectly valid ways with their own pros and cons, but don’t think about those. You don’t have to worry about what it might mean for you. That’s for us to worry about. And then for you to find out when its too late.”

Kate produced what could only be described as an innocent cackle in response.

“What did I say about unnecessarily scaring the new recruits?” asked Ray, voice tired like this wasn’t the first time he’d asked that question.

“Not to,” chorused Kate and Vankous.

“And what did you just do?”

“Ooops,” said Vankous while Kate smiled sheepishly.

“Alright, I believe that’s pretty much all we need to be doing in this room, why don’t we get a move on. You two come with me.” Ray pointed to Safi and Serafina before he wheeled around on Kate and Vankous. “And you two get back to whatever you were doing, we want our new recruits to actually stay with us.”

“Whatever,” huffed Vankous, snapping his fingers. There was a brilliant purple light, so bright that Safi had to shield her eyes. Once she managed to blink it away, there was no longer anyone standing where Vankous had stood besides an annoyed looking Ray and a still sheepish looking Kate.

“It was nice meeting you two,” said Kate, turning to Safi and Serafina, although Safi thought she lingered a little longer on Safi. It was probably wishful thinking. “I’m sorry if that made you uncomfortable, I assure you that you’ll love it here. Good Luck. I’ll see you around.” With that, Kate promptly walked into the nearest wall, and instead of a painful collision, she vanished straight into it. Safi tried to keep her gasp below audible levels.

“With that out the way, follow me,” said Ray, gesturing to the door.

Serafina finally spoked up. “Excuse me. Sorry if this is rude, but we were told to come her for an interview of sorts.” She looked back towards Safi who nodded in the affirmative, keeping her mouth firmly shut. Part of her wanted to yell at Serafina to shut up and stop jeopardizing them but she did really want to hear the answer to that.

“That was the interview Ms. Gianova. If you must imagine a traditional interview, think of the door as the interviewer and the question of how to get in as the question asked.” Ray chuckled. “Come on now. This is hardly a job where we’re going to quiz you about your qualifications and aspirations. If those didn’t align with what we needed, you’d never have set foot in the academy, much less the agency.”


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Thu Jun 13, 2024 12:27 am
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WeepingWisteria wrote a review...



Hello again, Kate! I'm here from the prologue to review Chapter One.

Well, I see there have been no wholesome-family-killing car crashes yet, so you get to stay out of court—for now. This chapter is an excellent reader-breathing point since the prologue poses many questions. We can take a breath and feel more at ease moving forward, only for the conflict to come back and hit us in the head when needed. It's funny, the character introductions work well, and it tells one cohesive story! With that said, let's move on to the details.

...and not in the fun way when supersonic transport was involved.

I keep returning to this, but I admire your causal world-building. You don't need lists and lists of your world's technology. Simple additions like this do a much better job.

She couldn't help but think it was an ironic choice designed to hint at how not permanent of a fixture the people who walked in there tended to be.

Another talent of yours is showing the readers your characters' personalities without having to spell anything out directly. Lines like this are both funny and tell us who Safi is as a person: she's incredibly self-critical and full of doubt (mood, girl). Another good job!

"Nothing like a bit of arson to make a good first impression on your employer."

Quote gen worthy.

It was cozy. That was the right word.

Was it cozy? In all seriousness, this description feels a little heavy-handed. Words like cozy and homey do wonders, but shoving three iterations in one description can feel a little much.

...with a baseball bat to clobber them on the back for breaking the door.

Does that happen often...? There is no critique, just concern.

Where else for reality's most powerful hacker to reside than with a celestial and THE wizard.

Great job on the character descriptions here! They all felt equal and demonstrated the importance of each character in a way that feels natural and not info-dumpy.

That's what these three are called.

The wording here is a little awkward because it makes Ray sound like he's not a part of the three. Maybe "us three" would work better.

"We have the brute force, sacrifice my hand for this job people, the ones who spot details that are literally invisible, and the ones who pick the simplest solution..."

As far as I know, there are three solutions to the door. But Vankous lays out four right here:
1. Brute force
2. Sacrifice Hand
3. Spot details
4. Easiest way out
I think two of those need to be combined.

"... you'd never have set foot in the academy, much less the agency" "

And that's the end! Excellent job, Ray, making our two gals feel better.

Overall, this works as a great first chapter. The character introductions are solid, and it still leaves all of the mystery built up in the prologue. Excellent job! Thanks for publishing; I enjoyed reading.

Happy Writing
Wist




KateHardy says...


Thank you for the revieww!



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Wed Jun 12, 2024 2:11 am
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ToastK wrote a review...



Hi, I’m Toast and hope you don’t mind me dropping in here for a review!

*mission impossible theme plays*

Okay, but seriously, let’s dive in shall we?

The story
So first of all, what a humorous yet action packed start you got here! I have to say, the pacing and dialogues as well as the characters’ actions kept me attentive even though I normally have a tough time sitting through longer stories (probably undiagnosed ADHD but whatevs)
Also, I really enjoyed the spy themed logic from the characters.

This day was going a mile a minute, and not in the fun way when supersonic transport was involved.

this type of dialogue at the beginning sets the scifi feel and the quirkiness of the character really well.

What in the world? An electrocuting handle? Why? When? How?

I love how fast paced the dialogue feels here, intensifying the feeling of actually getting electrocuted.

“Well, it’s a wooden door. I’m sure with the right equipment we’d have absolutely no trouble busting out way through with some gool ol' fashioned arson, but I don’t know. That seems a little extreme, even for this lot.”

first of all, good ol’ fashioned. Anyways, this genuinely slightly caught me off guard and the character interactions between safi and serafina after this made me genuinely feel their friendship.

Serafina did a little double take, before she seemed to realize where she was, tossing the lighter back into her pocked as she nodded in thanks and stepped over the broken wreckage of the door.

again, pocket. Anyways, the door has been broken! and so whats over it?

“That was…” came a voice from within the room, the drama dripping off it in waves. Safi grimaced, closing her eyes to hear the verdict. “…very cool.”

Safi opened her eyes out of pure shock. What? Had she actually done it?

“Vankous we’re trying to be professional here,” said a second voice. “You’re not helping that cause in the slightest.”

“Excuse me, I am…”

I love how informal this ‘job interview’ feels and Vankous seems to be a pretty chill person.

“We have the brute force, sacrifice my hand for this job people, the ones who spot details that are literally invisible, and the ones who pick the simplest solution,” Vankous explained. “All perfectly valid ways with their own pros and cons, but don’t think about those. You don’t have to worry about what it might mean for you. That’s for us to worry about. And then for you to find out when its too late.”

The attitude that the employers have is somewhat lax for a spy institution, but I feel that being chill open minded about the whole interview portion of the application actually falls in line with the vibe you’ve created here.

“That was the interview Ms. Gianova. If you must imagine a traditional interview, think of the door as the interviewer and the question of how to get in as the question asked.” Ray chuckled. “Come on now. This is hardly a job where we’re going to quiz you about your qualifications and aspirations. If those didn’t align with what we needed, you’d never have set foot in the academy, much less the agency.”

All in all, I really enjoyed this first chapter and it surprisingly didn’t feel that long at all!

Concluzun
I felt that the overall pacing, story, characters, and theme were the strongest points of this story. There were a couple of typos here and there, but no need to sweat over it. Looking through your works once or twice more thoroughly will take most of them out anyways,
Also, cool poster btw. It looks awesome! As I looked through your works, I kept seeing how awesome your cover arts were.
Have a nice rest of your day(or night, or idk.. uh hanukkah?) :D




KateHardy says...


Thank youu for the review!

And glad you like the cover art xD




Be led by your talent and not by your self-loathing ... everything beautiful in the world is within you.
— Russell Brand